Natural Point of Aim

There’s a little known method that you can use to improve your accuracy by a huge margin.  It’s one of those tricks that really separates the experts from the dilettantes.  If you’re the perceptive type, you probably noticed the title of the article, and have already figured out what the trick is.  Good job!  If you overlooked the title and guessed “heat seeking bullets”, well, it was a good try.

Natural point of aim (NPA- this is not a rap group, it stands for natural point of aim) is the spot that a shooting position, correctly assumed, will direct the shot to go when the shooter is completely relaxed.  It is your relaxed body aiming the rifle.  If the position is not altered, and the shooter directed each shot was directed towards the natural point of aim, each shot would go to precisely the same spot, even if the shooter’s eyes were closed.  Whether you believe in NPA or not, when you take up a shooting position, it is there.  It’s not a skill to learn necessarily, but a state that you need to learn to recognize, locate, and trust.

What most people do is get into a shooting position, notice that the sights aren’t aligned on target, and use the arms to move the sights into position.  That brings the muscles into play and compromises the structural integrity of the position.

The shooting position has one spot it wants to point at.  That spot will not change unless the position itself is adjusted.  The position should only be adjusted in its entirety.  Perhaps it would be more illustrative to say the position is “reset” and not merely adjusted.

Consider this plastic soldier:

How would you adjust his point of aim?  The easiest way is simply to move the entire figure.  Trying to move only the rifle will likely result in either no change, or it will spring back.  If you came to the same conclusion, then you are getting it.  If not, I’m starting to lose hope.  First heat seeking bullets, then this?  I’ve worked with some difficult students before, but this is a little ridiculous.

Stop thinking of yourself as a person with various joints and consider that you are whatever position you are shooting from.  That position is very similar to the plastic soldier, in that, if you want to change your point of aim you’re going to have to move the whole thing.

The basic way to check your NPA is to get into your shooting position of choice to the point where you guess that you are aligned on target.  Now 1.) close your eyes 2.) take a breath 3.) relax completely 4.)  when you reach your respiratory pause, open your eyes.  Your sights should now be aligned on your NPA.

If you’re new to the concept of NPA, you’re probably thinking that there’s too much work involved.  In the beginning, it is time consuming.  There’s nothing I can do to sugarcoat that for you; it does involve work and patience.  If all you want to do is rapidly send lead downrange, you don’t need to worry about it (and get off my blog!!!- or read and learn).  The upside is that it doesn’t really take long before you get a feel for where it’s going to be, and if you aren’t quite there, it’s really simple and quick to adjust it.

Offhand:

To adjust your NPA in offhand, consider your support side foot to be your anchor and pivot point.  To adjust made gross adjustments to your NPA right, move your firing side foot in the opposite direction of where you would like your muzzle to move; to move your muzzle right, move your firing side foot left, and vice versa.

To make small windage adjustments, you can also pivot either of your feet.  To move your NPA right, pivot your right toes to the right.  To move your NPA to the left, pivot your left foot toes to the left.  Think of opening your body in either direction to move your NPA in that direction.  This works for minor changes in NPA for any position.

To adjust your elevation, use your firing side foot.  Widening your stance will make your NPA higher.  A narrower stance will lower your NPA.  The position of your support hand will also change your NPA.  I use the feet for minor adjustments in the basically horizontal plane.  I use my support hand if the target is more drastically off center.  Farther out on the forend lowers the NPA, closer raises it.

Because where you put your hands on the stock affects NPA, it’s important to be consistent.  I have a spot where my left hand goes every time, that is unless the target is up or down, then I may move it.  Otherwise, be consistent.

Kneeling:

Since you’re sitting on your firing side foot, it’s going to be easier to move your support leg (the Appleseed folks just had a sudden urge to correct me :) ).  You can just wiggle that support foot towards where you want the rifle to point, or bounce it for that matter.  To make minor corrections, you can rotate the support side foot a bit but this could compromise your steadiness.  I say could, but you should see for yourself.

To adjust for elevation, you can move the support hand forward (NPA will lower) or rearward (higher NPA).  You can also make the stance shorter (higher NPA) or longer (lower NPA).  Finally, you could use low kneeling to shoot high and high kneeling to shoot low.

Sitting:

For open leg sitting, pivot on your bottom for left/right adjustments.  Move the feet towards where you want the rifle to point.  To adjust for elevation, move your feet forward and backward.

Cross ankle sitting is similar to open leg for left/right adjustments; move the feet towards where you want the rifle to point.  It won’t be as easy to move them, so bounce them or “throw” them.  If you try to adjust this by using your elbow as a pivot point, you’re going to find that all your weight is on your rear and it’s not “bouncing” anywhere.  Just move your feet.

If you get into the crossed ankle position, and you find that your rifle points at the ground, your upper body needs to bend forward (and down) more.  You can make small adjustments by moving the support hand like you would in any other position, and even smaller adjustments by moving the feet backward or forward (but use this sparingly).

In the cross legged sitting position, use your support elbow as the pivot point and bounce your bottom in the direction opposite of your desired NPA shift.  Or be a rebel and scooch your feet.   For elevation adjustments, move your support hand, or experiment with moving your feet to force your knees up or down.

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For positions I haven’t covered yet, I’ll be sure to describe some possibilities for moving NPA.

If I only get across one thing about adjusting NPA it would be this: It’s not rocket science, and there’s always more than just one way to do it.  Moving any part of your body will change your NPA in some form or fashion.  Notice what happens and experiment.  Eventually you’ll just feel your way into the correct change without thinking about it. 

The other side of the coin is that if you move any part of your body, it will change your NPA (yes I repeated that sentence again, but for effect).  That’s a very important point to understand because if you get lazy and let something drift during a string of fire, you’re no longer on target.  As humans, we have a tendency toward movement.  Intentional stillness is an important skill to cultivate, especially when it comes to shooting.  This is what your will is for.

The key to getting NPA to work for you is to never skip the step of checking it.  Trust me, you’ll start missing if you try to shortcut it.  Learn it, love it, live it.

20 thoughts on “Natural Point of Aim

  1. Also, to test your NPOA in Offhand, close your eyes, with eyes closed, swing your muzzle left and right(just a little swing will do, not a full line sweep!)and come to a natural stop, then open your eye. That is your NPOA and adjust as noted in article.

    Corvette

  2. Someone once taught me to use my belly button as a reference point when adjusting NPA in the prone position.

    It helps for me, just use your own if you try out the technique.

    Regards,

    Christian

  3. Just attended my first Appleseed. The sitting position plagued me for some reason. Consistently scored low as I felt uncomfortable with adjustments and could not find a good NPA. Thanks for the article.

    • One of the frustrating things for me during my tenure as an Appleseed instructor was that I could not create more hours in the day for more sitting instruction. It’s one of the more important positions from a real life perspective and it’s not easy to learn. I remember when I first started working on it I spent several days before it started to “work”. Hang in there.

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  6. This seems like such a simple concept once you understand it yet it is frustratingly difficult to explain it to a new shooter. Thanks for the well-articulated article.

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